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Sulgrave Manor's Gardens

H. Clifford Smith, in his authoritative study of 'Sulgrave Manor and the Washingtons', eloquently describes the beginnings of the present gardens.

The Farmyard as it was at the time of purchase.
The Farmyard as it was at the time of purchase.

"When the Manor House was bought in 1914 all trace of the original flower-garden and pleasaunce of Elizabethan days had disappeared. For no less than a hundred and fifty years the house had been merely a farm homestead, barns and sheds had been built on one side, while elsewhere, save for a small kitchen garden, rough paddocks had encroached to the very walls of the ancient building, and a pig-sty rested against one side of the Elizabethan porch.

"Piece by piece, as funds allowed, beginning in 1920 and running concurrently with the work indoors, the re-making of the garden and orchard was undertaken. Like the restoration of the house, the laying out of the whole of the grounds was entrusted to Sir Reginald Blomfield, a recognised authority on the planning of the English formal garden, and gradually a rose garden, herb and flower borders, a grass terrace, lawn and bowling green, an orchard, and thick hedges of close-clipped yew came into being - the right and proper setting for a Tudor dwelling."

The house before the second stage of garden work.
The house before the second stage of garden work.
As within the house, the garden restoration was undertaken through donations in both cash and kind. Mrs. James H Dorsey, Vice-Chairman of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, for example, sent over an offshoot of the elm tree at Cambridge Massachusetts under which George Washington stood when he took command of the American army. The 'Washington Elm' prospered, reaching eight feet high by 1932 but still with a way to go to match, at eighty to ninety feet, the remaining two ancient elms of a once large grove in Little Green, believed to be that mentioned by Washington Irving in his Life of George Washington as the roost for the rooks that even then were 'hovering and cawing' as they do today. Alas, the elms here, as throughout England, are no longer.


But another significant gift from Mrs Gilmer S. Adams in memory of her husband, the Sundial which was unveiled by Mrs Joseph Lemar in 1925, still stands as the focal point of the Rose Garden at the east side of the House. The dial's ancient square brass plate is engraved with a Tudor rose from which the hour lines radiate. Beneath this are cut the initials G.N. and a standing deer hound with the date 1579.

The Rose Garden retains its traditional geometric design and is gradually being replanted with roses. The Sulgrave Millenium rose now fills the central beds and a recent donation from Mrs Linda Williams has enabled us to begin replanting the other beds. The box hedges which create the design are being cut back to their original size and replanted where necessary. The Rose Garden now has herbaceous borders to the north and south but originally these were beds of lavender. Queen Mary and the Princess Royal accepted a gift from the first year's lavender crop in 1921 during their visit and from then on, hundreds of bags of lavender were sold to visitors.

The National Garden of the Herb Society.
The National Garden of the Herb Society.
Beyond the Rose Garden steps lead down to what was, in Blomfield's design of the 1920s, the Rock, Herb and Kitchen Garden. The new century marked the redesign of the area to incorporate the National Garden of the Herb Society which celebrates the American link by containing beds dedicated to herbs taken to the Americas and those introduced to Britain from the Americas as well as beds of general culinary and medicinal herbs. The area under the care of the Herb Society has recently been extended a little and work is proceeding to create a 'Magic Garden' for children. For many years, visitors had to retrace their steps from the Herb Garden back along the Rose Garden but in 2006 a new path was created to the north and south connecting the Herb Garden with the Orchard to the south and with an area newly taken into cultivation which will become the Washington Garden to the north.

The Orchard may well have been an orchard since the days when the estate was owned by the monks of St Andrew's Priory in Northampton. At the time of the 1920s restoration, there were a few apple trees of great age. Two of them, both more than 6 feet in girth, were still bearing fruit - a 'Hanwell Souring', one of the finest cooking apples known in the Midlands, and an 'Annie Elizabeth, one of the best dessert apples. Apart from these few fruit trees the acre of ground had remained a rough field until 1927 when it was decided to lay it out as an orchard once again, making it a definite part of the pleasure garden as was the custom in Tudor times. To this end, the apple trees were chosen as much for the beauty of their blossom as for the quality of their fruit and under-planted with spring time masses of daffodils, narcissi, jacinths, muscari, snowdrops and crocuses.

While the Hanwell Souring and the Annie Elizabeth are long gone, 'King Lod' remains, a very early 'Loddington', possibly the oldest in the country and certainly the oldest apple tree in Northampton.

There is a wooden bench at the end of the orchard commanding a direct view of the house and it commemorates the short life of Thomas Sherrerd, 1908 -1924, whose parents gave the orchard to the Manor in his memory. His mother, Mary Eva Moore Sherrerd was the President of the Colonial Dames of New Jersey.

Between the orchard and the house stretch the lawns replacing a pasture meadow where cattle grazed. A path of small stepping stones through the lawns was replaced in the 1990s with a broader gravel path ending, as the stepping stones had done, at two examples of topiary work, birds standing on broad bases in clipped yew. The 'bird' on the left was planted in 1924 by President Taft and that on the right by Ambassador Harvey. Over the decades, their shape had been obscured and they have been cut back this year in an attempt to rediscover the original birds.

The Plan of the Gardens in 1932
The Plan of the Gardens in 1932.

The work of the 1920s created the gardens to the front and east of the house but the area to the west remained part of the adjoining pasture, Madam's Close. Part of the Close was incorporated into the gardens but left to grass, known as 'the Paddock', as it still is, and trees added.

The major change came with the Courtyard Project, completed in 1999, which created the splendid range of modern buildings. Taking advantage of the fall of the land, a terrace garden was created leading from the Hall up to the Paddock and the path alongside the hall improved and another border added.








The terrace garden in 1999
The terrace garden in 1999
and in 2007
and in 2007

Some years ago, re-enactors built a forge at the top of the Paddock as part of a special event. This has been resurrected in the last couple of years and is now actively used by the Schools Programme to draw attention to the normal living standards in Tudor England. It attracts the interest of many adult visitors as well and serves as a reminder to all that not everyone in Tudor England lived in manor houses.


Last year the top of the Paddock was redesigned as a Children's Garden with a play area and living willow structures.


The work continues : to stay true to the founders' vision of the garden and also to provide visitors, both child and adult with a worthy extension of their experience at the Manor.